March 2014

Founded in 1883, Wente Vineyards is the oldest family-operated wine operation in California; winemaker is the fifth-generation Karl D. Wente. I say “operation” rather than “winery,” because Wente owns vast tracts of vineyards not only in Livermore Valley, where German immigrant Carl H. Wente (1851-1934) was a pioneer, but in Monterey County, where in the 1960s the family also was an early developer. Wente was the first winery to bottle varietally-labeled chardonnay and sauvignon blanc and for several decades both before and after Repeal sustained a reputation as the finest producer of white wines in California. Naturally, in a company with a 130-year history there have been ups and downs, and for Wente Bros. — the name was changed to Wente Vineyards in 1996 — the down occurred during the expansion and acquisitions of the 1980s, when quality slipped. More rigorous standards apply today, though, and Wente offers a range of attractive and fairly serious red and white wines from all its properties.

Today’s Wine of the Week hails from the red side of the roster. This is the Wente Vineyards “Southern Hills” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Livermore Valley, San Francisco Bay*, and if you don’t find the aromas entrancing, you just don’t have a heart. The color is dark ruby with a medium ruby rim; notes of star anise, lavender and graphite, black olive, cedar and a hint of caramelized fennel leap from the glass, amid a welter of ripe, spicy black cherries and currants. The wine aged 14 months in a combination of neutral** French, American and Eastern European*** oak barrels, a tactic that lends supple and mildly spicy support to tasty blue and black fruit flavors nicely balanced by vibrant acidity, lightly dusted tannins and some slightly ashy iron/iodine minerality on the finish. 13.5 percent alcohol. Loads of personality and just gets down on its knees and begs to be drunk with a fat juicy bacon-cheeseburger. Drink now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $18.

A sample for review.

*The ridiculously far-ranging San Francisco Bay AVA was approved in 1999, largely due to the efforts of Wente Vineyards. It gathers under one region not only the counties of San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Contra Costa and Alameda and parts of San Benito and Santa Cruz but the city of San Francisco and San Francisco Bay. You can leave your heart in San Francisco and sell your wine everywhere else.

**Meaning already used, as many as two or three times, so the wood influence is very subtle.

***”Eastern European” oak generally refers to Romanian, Slovakian, Slovenian or Hungarian oak barrels.

Three pinot noirs, two cabernet sauvignons, one syrah; a nice sense of symmetry, n’est-ce pas? Five from California, one from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All rated Excellent. One more costly than most of us can afford, the others more reasonable. All offering many virtues and confidences of the vineyard, the grape, the winemaker’s gentle and genial art. Quick notices here, eschewing technical matters and such geographical and historical information as much stimulate our fancies; the idea is that these notes — not as full-bodied as actual reviews — will inspire your interest and whet your palates. Enjoy!

These wines were samples for review.

Olema Pinot Noir 2012, Sonoma County. 14.2% alc. (The second label of Amici Cellars.) Radiant ruby-magenta color; plums, mulberries and cranberries, brier rose; hints of cloves, rhubarb and pomegranate; dense, supple and satiny; ripe and lightly spiced red and blue fruit flavors; a few moments in the glass bring in notes of roses and violets, leather and tobacco; undertones of graphite, earth and mild tannins. Really lovely. Now through 2016. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.

Elizabeth Chambers Cellar Winemaker’s Cuvée Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.9% alc. Transparent medium ruby color; quite spicy and lively, with macerated red currants and cherries, seductively ripe but balanced by a spare structure and long elegant lines; hints of cloves, cola and rhubarb, leather and loam, subdued oak; lovely satiny texture, but again that sense of reserve and delicacy, with acidity that lays an arrow across the palate. I could drink this one all day long and almost did. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $32.
Ramey Wine Cellars Syrah 2011, Sonoma Coast. 14.5% alc. With 5% viognier. 780 cases. Dark ruby color; deliriously spicy; notes of
macerated and slightly fleshy black currants, blackberries and raspberries, roughened by brambles and underbrush elements; robust, dynamic, powered by bright acidity, graphite minerality and sleek tannins; quite dry but flavorful, deft balance of spareness and rigor with generosity and expressiveness; finish packed with woody spices, granite and lavender. Perfect with pork chops coated with cumin, urfa pepper and chili powder. Now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $40.

Gary Farrell Russian River Selection Pinot Noir 2011, Russian River Valley. 14.2% alc. Entrancing ruby-magenta hue; nicely layered aromas of cloves and allspice, hint of sandalwood; macerated red currants, plums and cranberries; notes of rhubarb and pomegranate; gently sifted tannins over loam and slightly granitic minerality; a touch of lightly candied red cherry; lithe, supple, sinewy; exhibits terrific confidence and authority without being ostentatious. Now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley. 13.9% alc. With 8% each merlot and cabernet franc. 1,302 cases. Dark ruby color; rigorous structure with mountain roots but such a pretty surface, violets and lavender, cassis, plums and black cherries, note of licorice; stout, robust tannins and dusty oak bastions; walnut shell and underbrush; gets dustier and more austere but still scrumptious; lithic chambers of blueberries, sweet smoke, soy sauce and barbecue; iodine, iron, resonant acidity. Drink 2015 or ’16 through 2025 to ’30. Always one of Napa Valley’s best and most characterful cabernets. Excellent. About $45, representing Great Value for the Quality.

Hestan Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. 400 cases. An exemplary Napa Valley cabernet, and at the price it ought to be. Dark ruby-purple hue; iron and iodine, lavender and violets; black currants, black cherries and raspberries with a graphite/ancho chili edge, a hint of black olive, a dusting of dried rosemary; glossy tannins and a polished oak superstructure, all enlivened with brisk and elevating acidity; a long, dense yet lithe finish. If you have on hand a medium-rare ribeye steak, hot and crusty from the charcoal grill, introduce it to this wine. Now through 2020 to 2025. Excellent. About $110.

The phrase “Wine and Memory” may evoke for readers the memories we carry within ourselves of the great vintages of wine we have consumed or the wonderful times we spent with others, in some trattoria in Tuscany, next to a canal in Venice, on a wind-swept plain in Extremadura, high in the hillsides of the Douro region, in sight on the Andes in Mendoza, or among the lush vineyards of Napa Valley, always with the perfect bottle of wine, be it rare and costly or a simple everyday luncheon quaff, all bound by the congenial cords of friendship and landscape and pleasure.

Those evocative images, however, are not what I intend by writing “wine and memory.” What I mean is the memory of the wine itself, of wine as an evanescent record of the verities of soil and weather and location, the factors that merge to create the character of the wine, along with, of course, the nature of the grape itself. The reverse scenario also applies; wine can be stripped of its memory, rendered forgetful and inchoate.

I was impelled to write this little essay by a recent reading of two books, one of which has nothing to do with wine, the other of which has everything to do with wine.

First, then, from The Situationist City (MIT Press, 1998), in which Simon Sadler, speaking of the anti-modernist situationist architects and designers of the 1960s and ’70s, writes: ” … they deplored modernism’s tabula rasa approach to the city, one that would effectively leave the city without a memory.” And he mentions “the authority of narrative,” by which he means the deep accumulated history of cities that in its layers and diversity create a unique complexion and identification. You may wonder why those ideas reminded me of wine and winemaking, but if you don’t catch the drift, have a little patience.

Let me juxtapose that quotation with two from a book that should be essential (though difficult) reading for anyone connected with making, selling or writing about wine, Robert E. White’s Soils for Fine Wine (Oxford University Press, 2003). Much of the material in this volume is highly technical, algebraic and meticulous, but White, a professor of soil management at the University of Melbourne, makes clear, in his examination of the soils of St. Emilion, the Medoc, Burgundy, Beaujolais, Napa Valley and Australia’s Coonawarra region that there is “a significant influence of soil on wine character for particular grape varieties” grown in those areas. In addition, “the distinctive character of this wine will depend on the terroir (soil and climate), provided this influence is not obscured by extraneous factors in the vineyard or the winery.”

My point in aligning quotations from these disparate volumes is my sense that as in the city decimated by the rationalist and utopian methodology of modern architects, urban designers and sociologists, so it may occur in the vineyard and the winery, where producers have the ability to tailor wines to their own and their customers’ expectations rather than allowing the cogent features of geography, landscape, soil and microclimate — which White narrowly defines as the conditions that maintain in the vine canopy down through the roots — to shape the final product.

Now I am neither so naive nor so romantic that I would advocate for what is called “natural wine,” the current buzz-concept, nor would I assert that wine should “make itself.” For wine to be totally “natural” and “make itself,” it would have to be the product of ripe grapes that fell off the vine and fermented because of native yeasts on the broken skins, an elixir for the beetles and worms that burrow in the dark earth. Making wine calls for dozens if not hundreds of crucial decisions in the vineyard and the winery, most of which don’t involve mechanics as much as instinct, knowledge and experience. On the other hand, there’s virtue in simplicity, and while many so-called New World winemakers bristle — or become downright vituperative — at terms like “nonintervention” and “nonmanipulative,” it’s my feeling that the best wines result from a balance of sensibilities and techniques that concentrate on the benefits to the integrity of the wine.

What, for example, is the use of bottling single-vineyard chardonnays and pinot noirs if whatever qualities those vineyards might embody are obscured by an aggressive oak regimen? I frequently receive samples from wineries that take pride in a series that involves a separate and increasingly limited bottling for, say, a region, a valley, a vineyard, a block within that vineyard; the implication is that the sequence of these releases will provide a more accurate and profound expression of a particular place. How tragic, then, that the hoped-for eloquence is muted or disrupted or actually negated by the sweetness of high alcohol or tediously ripe flavors or a toasty overlay of new wood.

As you learned in Philosophy 101, tabula rasa is Latin for “blank slate,” a concept most familiar from John Locke’s idea that the human mind is a tabula rasa upon which the world imprints its impressions and effects. A few years ago, a very well-known winemaker for a venerable producer in Napa Valley said to me, “You know what I love about chardonnay? It’s a blank slate. You can do anything you want to with it.” That must explain why I could not drink this winemaker’s stridently spicy, toasty, cloyingly tropical chardonnays.

A grape variety is not a blank slate, My Readers, nor should winemaking devolve to an exercise in ego and dictatorial principles. If you’re not in the business of making fine wine because you revere a place and the grapes you work with and will not through thoughtful nurturing allow that place and those grapes complete expression, why bother? There’s history in the vineyard, geology in the vines and a narrative in the bottle that satisfies a deep longing for connection and gratification on many levels. It should be a privilege to husband that character to ultimate realization.

With last night’s pizza, which combined the basil/radicchio/red onion food group with the roasted eggplant/caramelized tomato/bacon food group, I opened a bottle of the Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend 2012, from Argentina’s San Juan region, abutting Mendoza to the south and similarly located in the Andean foothills, though San Juan tends to be hotter and drier than Mendoza. The winery was founded in 1870 by Italian immigrant Santiago Graffigna and remained in the family until 1980, when it was sold to Allied Domecq, in turn acquired in 2005 by Pernod Ricard. The term “Elevation” isn’t used trivially; these vineyards average 4,600 feet about sea-level. Graffigna Centenario Elevation Red Blend 2012 is an equal five-part blend of bonarda, cabernet sauvignon, malbec, syrah and tannat grapes. You would not be surprised, then, that it’s a robust and rustic red wine, offering a dark ruby color and aromas of ripe, fleshy black currants, blackberries and plums thoroughly imbued with graphite, lavender, bitter chocolate and cloves. The wine is sleek and supple, though full-bodied, borne by healthy, slightly shaggy tannins and bright acidity under tasty blue and black fruit flavors, all devolving to a cast of moderately astringent dried porcini, underbrush and brambly elements. 14 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2015 with such hearty fare as burgers, grilled pork chops, braised shanks or spaghetti and meatballs. Very Good+. Suggested retail price is $15, but I have seen it marked down as low as $10.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. A sample for review.

…. and it’s not from Napa Valley or Alexander Valley or Paso Robles. No, it hails from the Clare Valley in South Australia, a region that I associate more with superb riesling than cabernet sauvignon, but I’m happy to have my horizons expanded. The Taylor family, wine merchants in Sydney, searched for the right location in keeping with their idea of well-balanced wines and found what they were looking for in 1969, a 178-hectare vineyard — about 380 acres — near the Wakefield River in Clare Valley, about 120 kilometers north of Adelaide. Mitchell Taylor is managing director and third-generation winemaker; chief winemaker is Adam Eggins.

So, the Wakefield St Andrews Single Vineyard Release Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Clare Valley, offers a transparent medium ruby color and beguiling aromas of mint and iodine, cassis and blueberry, lavender and violets, all borne on deeply rooted elements of briers, loam and graphite. Black and blue fruit flavors are distinctly spicy in the cloves, allspice and mocha range, with a lingering hint of sandalwood; tannins are finely sifted and polished, while any wood influence, from 18 months in French oak barrels, 50 percent new, the rest two and three years old, is firm, subtle and supple. There’s energy and eloquence here, expressed in a feeling of resonance bolstered by vibrant acidity, yet nothing flamboyant or opulent; rather a sense of elementary power married to deftly balanced elegance. The finish is long and packed with dried spice, notes of underbrush and granitic minerality, bringing in a touch of austerity. 14.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to ’20. We gladly drank this with grilled pork chops and mashed sweet potatoes and pan gravy. 250 cases were imported. Excellent. About $60.

Imported by AW Direct, Novato, Calif. A sample for review.

Usually the “Weekend Wine Notes” offers more than a pair of wines, but I thought that this would be a good weekend to get you started on rosé wines, though I’m in favor of drinking rosés all year round. One from France’s Loire Valley and one from Cigales, a not-so-well-known region in north-central Spain; made from different grape varieties, slightly different in style, both exceedingly charming and satisfying. I won’t provide much in the way of technical, historical, climatic or personnel-type matter; the purpose of the “Weekend Wine Notes” is to titillate your taste-buds and pique your interest quickly. Both of these wines were samples for review; both are imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York. Enjoy!

Finca Museum Vinea Rosado 2013, Cigales, Spain. 12.5% alc. 100% tempranillo grapes, known in the area as tinta del pais. Lovely salmon-copper color; notes of fresh watermelon, raspberries, peaches and pink grapefruit; a few moments in the glass bring in hints of roses, lilacs and blood oranges; very dry, stony, moderately spicy and herbal — think cloves and dried thyme — with a citrus undertone and a real cut of bright acidity; fairly lean, limestone-inflected texture. Now into Spring 2015. Excellent. About $24.

Pascal Jolivet Sancerre Rosé 2013, Loire Valley, France. 12.5% alc. 100% pinot noir grapes. Slightly ruddy copper-peach color; hints of ripe peaches, red currants and blood oranges, touched with peach skin, pomander and pomegranate; this rosé is a bit fleshier, a bit more florid, supple and strawberryish than the preceding model, but is just as dry, as crisply acidic, even a touch austere from mid-palate through the spice and stone influenced finish. Now through the end of 2014. Excellent. About $27.

A few times a year, I receive a slim catalog from a wine seller in the Napa Valley, and naturally quite a few cabernet sauvignon wines are included in the roster. The descriptions of these wines are the most outlandish I have encountered. (I know, some of My Readers are thinking, “Pot calling the kettle black, eh?”) Here’s what I mean, though.

One cabernet will result in “leaving you in a giant wake of tannic goodness.”

Another is “truly decadent.”

Another cabernet “is sure to kick your palate out of bed.” (Huh?)

Again: will “deliver a knockout blow of flavor from this crimson heavyweight contender.”

Some cabernets in this catalog are “mind-blowing.” One of those mind-blowing cabernets is a “bottle of red decadence that’ll keep your palate shooting straight.” (Huh?) Another “will take your palate for a joy ride.”

To switch to pinot noir, a Sonoma Coast example is a “garnet siren (that) howls for your full attention the minute you lay eyes on her.” Another, to extend the hussy metaphor, is a “crimson vixen.” Another pinot noir “will have you licking your lips after every sip.”

And meanwhile a syrah from Napa Valley has “the guts and gumption of a wily young bird dog,” while a Cotes du Rhone is a “Grenache-based beast.”

My thought, after reading such flamboyant notations, is that I wouldn’t want to drink any of these wines. They sound tiresome and wearying, garish and vulgar, wanton and intemperate. All the emphasis is on size, power, extravagant ripeness, “sexiness” and baroque overwroughtness. Of course perhaps the wines themselves don’t actually embody such qualities; perhaps the writer felt hyperbolic and enthusiastic; and perhaps he knows that his audience lies within the range of those for whom drinking wine must somehow be a large, dramatic and exaggerated experience.

“Decadence” once connoted the decline, degeneration or decay of primarily political and cultural institutions from their first standards of ideals and behavior through morbidity to a level of dilution, inaction and nullity. Edward Gibbon described the long decadence of the Roman state in minute detail in The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776-1788), while Oswald Spengler did the same for Europe as a whole in The Decline of the West (1918-1922). As is the case with many words and concepts, “decadence” has itself been watered down, operating now as a synonym for luxury — or “luxe,” as style-writers say — or richness that goes beyond cloying, commonly applied to desserts and confections and the leather seats of expensive automobiles.

The implication of a “truly decadent” wine, then, a “joy ride,” a “mind-blowing” “crimson vixen” is a rich, cloying beverage, excessive and profligate, orgiastic and orgasmic. Or at least there are customers of the author of this catalog who believe those qualities are what they desire in wine. Or so the author of the catalog himself believes.

Count me out.

As longtime readers of this blog understand, I want wines in which power is balanced by elegance, where fruit is tempered by rigor, where the focus is on vigor and freshness, not luxury or opulence or some mythic animalistic aura. Save the decadence for a towering slice of “Death by Chocolate” cake.

Wine has been made in the state of Virginia since about 1607, beating the Spanish missions in California by some 160 years. The early English colonists produced wine — or “wine” — from indigenous grapes. It was Thomas Jefferson, perhaps American’s first wine connoisseur, who famously brought vinifera grapes from France and planted them (unsuccessfully) at Monticello. The climate seems iffy; Virginia is, of course, The South, and the growing season is hot and humid. Such factors as fungal diseases don’t discourage the truly dedicated, however, because if people are determined to grow cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay grapes where it might seem inappropriate, they’re just gol-darn gonna do it. Many traditional vinifera, i.e., European grapes are cultivated in Virginia, though many wineries also rely on native or hybrid grapes. I have heard and read that in some of these regions and AVAs such white grapes as viognier and petit manseng perform surprisingly well, but I have not tried these wines.

The state is organized into nine regions and seven official American Viticultural Areas — AVAs — with such colorful names as Rocky Knob and Northern Neck George Washington’s Birthplace. According to the very helpful, there are 248 wineries in the state. Virginia is the country’s fifth largest wine-grape producer and fifth in the number of wineries. How many people outside of Virginia have tasted wines from the Blue Ridge State? Not many, I would guess. In fact, until recently, I had not tried a single wine from Virginia, and that’s when Stinson Vineyards, a small producer in the Blue Ridge Mountains sent me a few bottles.

How small is the operation? The estate encompasses 12 acres, of which five are in vines. In a winery converted from an old three-car garage, father and daughter Scott and Rachel Stinson make minute quantities of wines that follow, they say, a French model, particularly of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley. Stinson’s historical feature is Piedmont House, seen in the evocative image to the right, built in 1796 and expanded in the 1840s.

These wines were samples for review.
The Stinson Mourvèdre Rosé 2012, Monticello, was my favorite of these three wines. The color is classic pale copper-salmon; the wine is quite fragrant and evocative, offering hints of apple and gardenia, melon and dried red currants. It has that Provençal thing going on: dusty roof tiles, a hint of dried rosemary, warm rocks, zinging acidity, with final hints of raspberries and limestone, all delicately knit in a pleasing slightly lush texture. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 220 cases. Drink through Summer 2014. Very Good+. About $17.
The bright gold color of the Stinson Chardonnay 2012, Monticello, seems like a pretty good indication of the ripeness of its pineapple and grapefruit flavors, though perhaps I’m being metaphorical. In any case, this is a very ripe, slightly smoky chardonnay whose fruit feels rather roasted and candied, with a spicy overlay and a hint of ripe fruit sweetness — peach and lemon balm — from mid-palate back through the finish. Still, for the price, you get a lot of burnish and style, though I would prefer more restraint. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 200 cases. Now through 2016. Very Good. About $22.

The Stinson Cabernet Franc 2012, Virginia, offers a luminous medium ruby color and attractive aromas of blueberries, black currants and plums, highlighted by notes of cloves and dried thyme; bright acidity enlivens tasty black and blue fruit flavors set into a moderately tannic structure. 12.8 percent alcohol. Production was 100 cases. This is a truly delicious and drinkable wine, but its relationship to what the cabernet franc grape does best is fleeting. Now through 2015 or ’16. Very Good+. About $23.

Just when you think that you’ll scream if you have to drink another cabernet sauvignon or merlot, along comes the refosco grape to renew your faith in individual red wine. The grape is native to the vineyard regions of northeast Italy and is also cultivated in neighboring Slovenia and Croatia and a bit in Greece. Its use was recorded as long ago as the late 14th Century, and its wine was a favorite of the libertine and memoirist Casanova. Of a group of related refosco grapes, the most prominent and widely cultivated is refosco dal peduncolo rosso, referring to the reddish color of its stem. These tend to be forthright and robust red wines, high in acid because of the late ripening of the grapes and deeply tannic; they do not take well to aging in small oak barrels. Today, then, I recommend the Ronco dei Moreri Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso 2011, Venezia Giulia, from the estate of Marco Felluga. The name of the vineyard, Ronco dei Moreri, means a hillside surrounded by mulberries. The grapes for this wine were fermented in stainless steel tanks, and the wine aged 12 months in a combination of large and small oak casks. The color is a rich dark ruby hue; the bouquet carries aromatic density of spice and earth and leather, a meaty fleshy aura of macerated plums, mulberries and blueberries and wild notes of violets and graphite. Dense, too, on the palate, the wine delivers prominent dry grainy tannins, as well as the grape’s fabled lively acidity, both aspects supporting flavors of fresh and dried red and black fruit permeated by touches of rosemary, lavender and granitic minerality. The finish is long and slightly austere. 13.5 percent alcohol. About as dignified as a rustic wine gets. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. We had this bottle with homemade pizza dominated by mushrooms, green olives and bacon; its robust and packed character would be appropriate with roasted veal chops, game such as venison and boar or braised beef or bison short ribs. Excellent. About $20.

Imported by Dalla Terra Winery Direct, Napa, Calif. A sample for review.

The days are long gone when West Coast producers planted pinot noir all over the place, hoping they would hit upon the proper soil and climate either by chance or force of will. Time and effort and dedication have winnowed the acknowledged handful of great pinot noir areas to — naming some personal favorites — Santa Lucia Highlands, Russian River Valley, Sonoma Coast and Anderson Valley in California and the tiny appellations of Oregon’s Willamette Valley as not just suitable but frequently superb ground for the notoriously shy and difficult grape. Today, I offer six recently tasted pinot noirs from Willamette Valley, encountered at a wholesaler’s trade event, recommending them without reservation. Two of these producers were new to me, Maysara and J. Christopher; the latter made a particularly strong impression, and I will look for their wines in the future or shamelessly beg for samples. These are quick reviews, not intended to delve into the details of history, geography, personality or technical matters but meant to pique your interest and whet your palate. Enjoy!

Adelsheim Elizabeth’s Reserve Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley, Oregon. 13.4% alc. Entrancing pale rose-ruby color; cloves and sassafras, red cherries and currants with a hint of plum and rose petal and a slightly peppery briary-brambly undertow; lithe and supple, just a touch of graphite-inflected tannin under red fruit (both fresh and dried), but mainly a paragon of delicacy and elegance, beautifully knit by bright acidity. Nobly done. Drink now through 2017 or ’18. Excellent. About $55.

Argyle Reserve Pinot Noir 2011, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Medium ruby color, fairly opaque at the center; a multi-dimensioned, fully detailed pinot noir, broad with ripe and macerated black and red fruit scents and flavors, deep with cloves and allspice; a few moments in the glass bring out notes of rhubarb and pomegranate, briers and loam; dense, super-satiny texture, close to muscular and built upon svelte tannins and brisk acidity. Drink now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $40.

Argyle Nuthouse Reserve Series Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 13% alc. Beguiling medium ruby-garnet color; very clean, pure and intense; red cherries and currants, notes of cranberries and plums, cloves, cola and sassafras; winsome high-note of violets; a pinot noir both substantial and lyrical, energetic and expressive; hints of Willamette’s damp leaves and brambles, finely-grained tannins with graphite minerality in the background; finish leans toward cool blue fruit and black tea. Now through 2018 to ’20. Excellent. About $50.
J. Christopher Wines Pinot Noir 2010, Willamette Valley. 13% alc. Medium ruby color; lovely tone, weight and structure; clean, spare, elegant yet lively, blooming with red-tinged fruit fringed with smoke and blueberries; the spicy element burgeons from satiny mid-palate through the slightly sinewy finish, adding subtle notes of graphite and loam, all energized by bright acidity. Drink now through 2016. Excellent. About $28.
The label image says 2011; it is the 2010 under review.
J. Christopher Wines Lumière Pinot Noir 2011, Eola-Amity Hills. 13% alc. 756 cases. Medium ruby color; this is tighter and leaner than the previously mentioned wine from J. Christopher; red currants and red cherries touched with smoke, graphite and more spice that edges into sassafras-allspice territory, with a note of allspice’s characteristic spare and exotic woody quality; briers and brambles make an appearance, over finely sifted tannins and acidity that cuts a swath on the palate. My favorite kind of pinot noir, honed, burnished, animated. Now through 2017 to ’19. Excellent. About $35.
The label image is one vintage behind.
Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir 2009, McMinnville. 13.7% alc. Certified biodynamic. Light ruby color with a garnet tinge; spiced and macerated red currants, cherries and plums, a touch meaty and fleshy; quite spicy with cloves and sassafras, hint of pomegranate, but very clean and intense; fairly plush with velvety tannins but lithe and supple texture, acidity lends leanness and energy; a bit earthy and autumnal through the finish, notes of moss and burning leaves. Now through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $25.

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